“Good Ends Don’t Justify Sinful Means!”
01/19/14 AM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
[See H. Hoeksema, Sermon #15 “A Damnable Inference”]
In the previous verses, the apostle has removed every last possibility of excuse from the hand of the sinner. That was the purpose of those last four or five verses. The sinner, if he’s ever going to hear the Gospel, namely, that a man is justified by faith through a righteousness which is 100% of God and which is the gift of Jesus Christ – if ever a sinner is to truly hear that
Gospel, he must have nothing left from himself to turn to. There must be no possibility left for him to think that he might be justified by his own works.
Therefore, not only those works which we might call the works of the law, but even our church membership, our religious observances, our piety, must all be taken away as grounds or bases for our righteousness. All of this, Paul has taken away in the previous verses.
Now, in the context, the apostle answers another possible objection of one who lies about God to excuse himself. Let me use an illustration. A judge passes sentence upon his own son. That son has committed murder. He’s tried in that father’s own court; and that judge justly issues the verdict of a death sentence upon that son.
As a result of this demonstration of the righteousness of that judge who refused to compromise justice, even in the case of his own son, that judge receives great praise and accolades by the legal profession. They all commend him for his honesty and integrity.
But the son, hearing that his father is praised for his righteousness and integrity, then turns around and says, “Because my sin commends your righteousness, you can’t condemn me to death. After all, my crime is what brought you all this praise!”
But the judge answers, “If that’s the case, then how could I ever judge anyone justly again?”
What’s the fatal flaw in the reasoning of that son? It’s just this, that although the son’s sin becomes the means of commending the righteousness and integrity of the judge being commended, that sin still remains sin, and therefore that sin must still be condemned, if, indeed the judge is truly just.
And that’s how the apostle reasons in the context, and in the text.
Romans 3:5-8 says, “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s
righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument). Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, ‘If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?’ Why not say – as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we
say – ‘Let us do evil that good may result’? Their condemnation is deserved.”
In other words, “How, then, could God judge anyone for doing anything wrong, because He always shows Himself righteous when he judges. So then, according to your argument, God could never judge anyone for anything
again, right? How foolish and stupid an argument!”
The logical conclusion of that argument is the philosophy, “Let’s do as much evil as we can, so that God might receive more glory!” People who think this way, says Paul, deserve the condemnation they’ll receive!
The apostle had said earlier that the faithfulness of God was not affected by the unbelief of the sinner.
Paul said, in Romans 3:3-4, “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true and
every man a liar.”
The unbelief of some of those who were raised in the church and who had the very Words of God proclaimed unto them merely serves to show that all men are, indeed, liars, and that only God can be counted on as being faithful and true. The unbelief of some of them that have the very Words of God shows that, even though man may have the Word of God, man is still a liar.
Still, God does give faith to them which are the true heirs of the promise. So now the objector says, “If that’s true, if my unfaithfulness serves to bring out the faithfulness of God, then God is unrighteous if He brings wrath upon me.” Or, as our text, in effect, says, “If my lies are necessary in order that God’s truthfulness may be more clearly seen, then I can’t be judged as a sinner after all. And, in fact, the safest rule is probably this: “Let’s do more evil so that more good may come out of it.” That, the apostle says, is a damnable inference. Good ends don’t justify sinful means!
The objector draws a conclusion here, an inference, and he’s trying to base it on the preaching and teaching of Paul. He’s actually trying to put words in
Paul’s mouth that Paul, himself, forcefully denies as slanderous.
This type of thing is often done today as well, of course. How often don’t we hear this conclusion drawn?: “If you insist upon preaching about the absolute sovereignty of God – if you keep insisting that even sin and the devil are there by the eternal purpose and plan of God – then you’re making God the author of sin. And you’re taking away the free will and responsibility of man.”
But note well, that’s not the conclusion of those that hold to the sovereignty of God. That’s the conclusion of the enemy, and it’s put in the enemy’s
words. That’s what we see going on here in the text. From the Biblical doctrine that the apostle Paul is preaching, the objector draws this rash conclusion: “Well then, let us do evil that good may result.”
But we must ask the question, “From what doctrine of Paul, specifically, does the objector draw this wretched conclusion?”
And the answer is that he draws this conclusion from the teaching of Paul that even sin and evil and all the powers of darkness exist and operate under God’s control and must serve to bring glory to God, so that even all the lies
of men actually end up bringing out the truth of God more clearly.
And that teaching of Paul was in answer to the previous objector who had said, “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?”
The apostle’s answer was that the fact that some, who had the very words of God, did not have faith, only served to show more clearly that God is true and every man a liar.
The apostle said that that was the purpose of God in not giving faith to all. God didn’t give everyone faith in order that it might become evident that God is true and that every man is a liar. And that’s the particular teaching of Paul from which the objector draws his conclusion, “Well then, let us do evil that good may come.”
But there’s also a general principle, here, that the objector is using as the basis for his faulty argument. He’s arguing that sin really has no purpose, no end of its own, in God’s creation. But this is God’s world and the only purpose, the only end which sin can reach, is the glory of God.
God’s purpose in ordaining sin in this world is that it may become evident that He is God, and that He is God alone, and that He is the only good.
The devil and all the powers of darkness must serve that purpose, and that purpose alone. That’s a general truth taught in the Word of God. That’s an important principle. The apostle teaches that sin is there to glorify God. The apostle teaches that the unrighteousness of man always serves to bring out the righteousness of God. That’s God’s purpose in unrighteousness, and everything in God’s world must serve to bring glory to God in the end. And that’s one truth we must never surrender. It’s the truth of truths, in a sense, because it’s the truth that God alone is God. God alone is the absolute, sovereign controller over all things.
So anyway, it’s that truth that the apostle is getting at when he says, in effect, “God’s faithfulness is only further enhanced and exalted when men are unfaithful and unbelieving in spite of the many privileges given to them.”
That’s the basis then, from which this new objector draws his inference. And what is that inference? The apostle says, “I’m using a human argument.” In other words, this is the inference of a man using the logic of his sinful human nature. To make this inference is to speak as a man, not as an apostle, not even as a Christian, but to speak as a man, a sinful, lying man.
And so, what does sinful man conclude from Paul’s teaching? He says this, “If that which you’ve been teaching, Paul, is true, then this is also true: My lie bears good fruit. My sin serves a good purpose. It serves to bring out the truth of God. So when you stop and think about it, that means that my lie is really a necessary element in bringing glory to God. If I didn’t lie, God
wouldn’t be glorified as being truthful. By way of contrast, my unrighteousness exalts the righteousness of God so that all can see that I am unrighteous and that God is righteous. So my unrighteousness only brings out the beauty of the righteousness of God. And that is why I conclude: It is also true that God cannot judge me as a sinner.”
Paul puts it this way in the text, in v.7, “Someone might argue, ‘If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?’”
In other words, “How can God judge me as a sinner if the truth of God stands out more clearly through my being a liar? God can’t judge me as a sinner. Don’t you see, Paul, that I’m excused? Even though I’m a liar, and am unrighteous, I can’t be judged, because my lie brings glory to God.
You see, I’m bringing glory to God by my sin. How can God judge those who bring Him so much glory? God should thank me for my faithful service in bringing Him so much glory through my sinfulness!”
And then there’s one more step. There’s one, further, sinful, human conclusion that’s made from the doctrine that God is sovereign: “Let us do evil that good may result!” That’s the conclusion of the enemies of God!
But Paul says that these enemies of God do something even worse that this. These men actually accused Paul of teaching this damnable lie! Paul says, “...we are being slanderously reported as saying” this, “and... some claim that we say” this!
That’s an old trick. Put words in your opponent’s mouth. Try to draw conclusions from what he says that he’d never make. There were some who actually said that the apostles taught, “Let us do evil, that good may result.” But the apostles never taught that. That was nothing more than a
false conclusion, a damnable conclusion. These objectors were trying to say, “Good ends, justify sinful means.”
But what’s wrong with that conclusion? I’m sure you’ve heard the statement
before, “The end justifies the means.”
This statement has been used to excuse all manner of sin and wickedness in the name of a good result in the end. Police will sometimes break the law and walk all over a person’s rights in order to bring someone to justice. They’ll do a search of a house, without a search warrant, and then they’ll lie to cover their tracks, all in the name of bringing criminals to justice in the end. But this principle is not right and it’s not drawn from the teaching of God’s Word.
In the first place, those who come to this conclusion don’t quite present the matter correctly. They say, “My falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory.”
That’s not quite correct. They make a little mistake here. But that little mistake happens to be a rather serious error. You see, their premise, upon which they draw these conclusions, is not quite true. Their premise states, “My falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness.” But that’s not exactly the case. This premise should be put in a slightly different form in order to be true. The falsehood of man does not enhance God’s truth – the falsehood of man opposes God’s truth! The unrighteousness of man does not bring out the
righteousness of God – it opposes that very righteousness. And that means that man does not glorify God when he lies. Man does not glorify God when he commits unrighteousness. Man has no intention whatsoever of bringing glory to God when he lies or commits unrighteousness. Exactly the opposite is in his heart! He hates God. So the falsehood of man is not a work that can bring glory to God.
A lie is always a lie, and so here’s the way we must put the initial premise: “God glorifies Himself through my unrighteousness. God Himself glorifies His truth through my lie.”
We must never say, “My lie glorifies God.”
No. It’s God Who glorifies Himself, even through my sinful lie. God always glorifies Himself.
God glorifies Himself in the elect as well – in those who do what’s right. But we don’t merit anything either, even when we obey God. God glorifies Himself by giving us salvation by His grace and by making us righteous, in Christ. God glorifies Himself in raising up a people for Himself, a people eager to do good works. And when we say that our good works bring glory to God, what we mean is that God glorifies Himself through the means of those good works which He created us to do and which He enables us to do.
And even as God glorifies Himself in the elect, so He glorifies Himself also in the unbeliever. God does it. God uses man’s lie and man’s unrighteousness and He turns it to His own glory. So the conclusion of the objector is absurd.
Let me give you an illustration of how absurd it is. Suppose someone were to manufacture a powerful bomb and then hide it somewhere in the building where the U.S. Congress meets? Suppose he sets a timer to go off right during the middle of a meeting of Congress, intending to kill off the entire U.S. Congress in a single blast? (Now don’t tell me that some of you have actually thought of doing this!)
But suppose, during a check by the security personnel, the bomb is discovered and then disarmed? And then, suppose the materials from that bomb were used to assist our U.S. Army in one of its operations, which eventually saved the lives of 1,000 Americans? I ask you, “Would the
maker and planter of that bomb be a national hero?”
After all, the end result of his crime was the saving of 1,000 American lives. Does that final end justify the means used by this maniac?
Of course not! That’s absurd! This man committed a great crime against the United States! His goal was to bring great harm to this nation.
Well, by the same token, if God, in His great wisdom and righteousness, sees fit to take the sins and lies of men and utilize them for His good purposes, does that make those sins right? Never! Making that conclusion is a complete and total absurdity!
No, God’s glorification is a self-glorification. It’s a glorifying of Himself in spite of the sins and lies of men and demons. So the sinner has no right, no cause to ask, then, “Why am I still condemned as a sinner?”
He’s condemned as a sinner because, plain and simple, he is a sinner, period. His sins and his lies do not glorify God.
Let me give one more illustration: If a man throws a child into the water, and that drowning child becomes the occasion for another man to show his bravery, should the man that threw the child into the water claim the credit
for making the other man a hero? Wouldn’t people consider him to be a madman if he were to do this?
Or, let’s use something that actually happened: If the Jews who crucified Jesus Christ should say to God, “We’re the cause that the blood of the
atonement for men’s sins was shed, so we want the credit, therefore, for saving sinners from condemnation,” wouldn’t that be considered to be rather insane reasoning?
Well that’s the absurdity of this objection and of all the other objections of the wicked. To be sure, in the Day of Judgment, the wicked will finally be made to see and to acknowledge that they’ve served nothing but the purposes of God, for the glory of God. But they will never be able to say, “Bringing glory to God was our work.” They’ll say, instead, “We were the most absurd fools there ever were. Our evil plans backfired on our own heads.”
You see, the sinner is absurd, by nature. The devil is absurd as well. He’s a fool. And the absurdity of the fool will be acknowledged by the fool himself when it’s made manifest to all that God is true and that every man is a liar.
Not only is this inference of the wicked an absurd conclusion, it’s also a damnable conclusion. It’s a damnable conclusion to say, “The ends justify the means, so let’s sin all the more so that good may result.”
Often people will say, “You Calvinists teach that God foreordains that sin should come to pass.” And that’s true. God does foreordain whatsoever comes to pass, including sin. But then they say, “So if that’s true, then it’s also true that God is the author of sin and that God forces men to sin.”
And when they say that, then you mustn’t switch into reverse and try to backpedal on your doctrine. You mustn’t try to compromise with such people and try to take away the punch of this teaching of God’s Word. You mustn’t say something like, “Well, no, that’s not what I meant. God doesn’t actually foreordain sin, He just sort of doesn’t stop it, you know what I mean?”
No, instead you must say, in the face of such absurd argumentation, “Your condemnation is deserved!”
You see, when the apostle says, “Their condemnation is deserved,” he isn’t just stating a general truth. He’s saying that those who say these things about our doctrine – those who so absurdly oppose the clear teaching of Scripture on this point – such people make it clearly evident that their damnation is deserved. It’s evident that they’re hopelessly steeped in sin because even when the Gospel is preached to them – and even when it’s preached to them that they can do nothing with a view to their own salvation – they just turn that Word from God into a word from the devil. They twist that Word of God to try to make it sound like sin is a good thing. Paul says that it’s evident, in such a case, that their condemnation is deserved!
When men hear the Gospel, and then they take and subvert that Gospel into such a damnable heresy as, “Let us do evil, that good may result,” then it’s quite evident that their condemnation is deserved. That’s what the apostle means.
Further, the apostle means to say that those who slander the preachers of God’s Word by putting demon language into their mouths – they clearly show that their condemnation is deserved.
Why do you suppose they spread this slander about the apostles? Was it a mistake? Did they make a slight mental error here in their logic? Not at all. Their deepest purpose in slandering the apostles was that they wanted to lie about the living God. And when they heard the truth from these preachers, they wanted to show that it could be twisted into an absurdity. Their only purpose in making all these false inferences and then accusing the apostles of teaching these terrible things was to lead people away from the truth.
And that’s the same thing people do today. When you teach that God is absolutely sovereign over all things, including man’s sin, and including the sins of all the powers of darkness, people will sometimes say that you’re making God the author of sin.
Is that just a little mistake in logic on their part? No. Their purpose in saying
this is to oppose the truth of God and to make it into a lie, and their
condemnation is deserved. Their every excuse has been taken away by Romans 1-2. They have no excuses left.
God glorifies Himself. He does so whether you believe or not. And this glorifying of Himself is not something that we can claim to our credit. There’s no righteousness in man. There’s no one that can appear before God in his own righteousness.
No, this is our only hope of salvation: God brought light out of darkness, not we. God brought life out of death, not we. God alone is faithful and true. God
demonstrated His own faithfulness when He gave His only begotten Son to die and then raised Him from the dead. And in Christ, God revealed the only righteousness with which we can appear before God, a righteousness which is from God, through faith in Christ Jesus.
People of God, believe in Jesus Christ. Believe in Him alone and throw away all that is of yourself. This is something which we must do every day. It’s not so easy to believe in Christ. Every day you must throw away all that is of yourself. And when everything that is of yourself has been cast away, only then will you be able to cast yourself wholly and completely on Christ alone.
And when we cast ourselves on Christ, only then will we be clothed with His righteousness, and only then will we be able to say, with Paul, in Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now
stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”